On Point: Squeezing Baghdad

by Austin Bay
March 25, 2003

The big squeeze has begun, as allied pincers close on Baghdad.

At the moment, it looks as if it will be a difficult clinch.

After bridging the Euphrates River, the U.S. 3rd InfantryDivision is approaching Baghdad from the southwest. Other allied forces arepoised to thread their way up the Tigris valley. These are the two strongground arms of the squeeze.

Operations in western Iraq to suppress Scud launch sites (theScud box) and occupy the area's airbases appear to be a rather silentsuccess.

Don't underestimate the importance of western Iraq. The largebases can land warplanes and transport aircraft. These bases not only helpcurb SCUD shots at Israel -- a vital strategic objective and one that deniesSaddam's regime the ability to expand the war -- they serve as concrete"trampolines" for further operations. Units like the helicopter-borne 101stAirborne Division can use the bases to "bounce" to the north or go east toBaghdad and aid the squeeze.

The map demonstrates why the Baghdad region is tricky.Population areas -- more civilians -- always require more care. Twists inthe river and canals mean more bridging operations. Only opposed amphibiouslandings from the sea and parachute drops in hostile territory are morerisky that opposed river crossings. U.S. precision weapons do lower the risksince they can quickly suppress resistance.

One risk the United States has assumed (and it is in part theresult of an attempt to minimize the loss of Iraqi civilian and militarylives) is "near rear area attacks" by "stay behind" hard core RepublicanGuards or terror squads. The fanatics slip in among bypassed Iraqi Armypersonnel who have ceased fighting. The fanatics then attack follow-on unitsor choke-points like bridges. The Sunday Iraqi attack on a U.S. supplyconvoy was probably conducted by such a force.

"Opposed" is, of course, the tough word. While intensefirefights have occurred, the general impression remains that small packetsof Iraqi troops are fighting these short battles -- company-sized (150troops) or less.

The "fog of war," however, settles thick and tight, andestimates are just that -- guesses drawn from experience and fleetingreports. TV offers tiny windows, porthole views of a dangerous ocean storm.Some coverage has been extraordinary, and the context provided by analystsexcellent. History, however, will prove many of these portholes to bepotholes.

When 3rd Squadron 7th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division's armoredreconnaissance unit, received a volley of artillery rounds, it became amajor cable TV report. A few shells isn't heavy resistance, it'sharassment -- dangerous, but expected. The cav WANTS to identify points ofenemy resistance. The TV anchor and the reporter embedded with the 3/7th Cavwere struck by the troopers ability to disperse in 20 seconds and continuetheir mission.

Excited chatter and lack of context makes such incidents appearas much more than they are. As a former cav trooper, I assure you recontrains to probe the enemy, then scoot and slip around them while otherdivision and Air Force weapons attack the enemy targets.

Central Command speaks of allied forces "engaging emergingtargets." For the first few days of the offensive in the main, this meantregime targets in Baghdad attacked by air. The Republican Guards aroundBaghdad are now the emerging targets, for air and other long-range fires.

They will have their chance to surrender. Pray that they do. Ifthey don't, look for the big squeeze to become a crunch. The crunch will bea "synchronized" air and ground attack to destroy them.

At that point, Saddam's strategy will become most evident. TheBaath fascist regime holds Baghdad as a huge urban hostage, a hostage in thetelevision lens. The Iraqi regime's fevered information war will get hotter,the televised clips nastier. There are already reports of fascist fanaticsattacking in civilian vehicles and in civilian clothes. These attacks arenot only intended to enrage allied troops (and perhaps provoke an attack oncivilians) but are designed to frighten Iraqi civilians. They bloodilyremind the populace that the hand of Saddam hasn't quite faded.

Though the Marines report delight among liberated Iraqis aroundBasra, don't look for street dancing until the Arabic Al Jazeera TVpronounces the Baath regime dead and buried.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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